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    What Is Zinfandel Wine? (Best Varieties, Taste & Characteristics)

    Zinfandel Wine Guide

    Bursting with fruity flavours, Zinfandel (also known as Zin’s) is a wine unlike any other.

    We’ll look at colour, characteristics, body, and tasting notes to help you find your favourite style.

    In this article, we'll explore everything there is to know about zinfandel wine, its taste, food pairings that go well with the wine and how zinfandel compares to other wines.

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    Zinfandel Wine (Red & White) - The Ultimate Guide

    Zinfandel Wines

    As one of the oldest grapes in the world, Zinfandel has a history dating back hundreds of years, but it only really became popular in the 1970s when Californian winemakers began creating the now-famous White Zinfandel Rosé to cater to white wine drinkers.

    This new blush wine took America by storm, and Zinfandel became the vine of choice for winemakers across the country.

    In the 1990s, wine trends changed again, and the popularity of red Zinfandel wines soared.

    US winemakers are most proud of their red varietals, which have picked up numerous awards over the years, and today, red Zinfandel is the signature wine of America.

    Zinfandel Wine Characteristics

    Zinfandel grapes produce a dark, robust wine similar in style to a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, although it is slightly lighter in colour and sweeter on the palate.

    Much like merlot, zinfandel has medium tannin and medium acidity, making it a beautifully balanced, full-bodied wine, but it has a high alcohol content ranging from 14 to 16% ABV.

    What Does Red Zinfandel Taste Like?

    Bursting with fruity flavours, red Zinfandel is a red wine unlike any other.

    Expect a vibrant bouquet of:

    • Cherry
    • Cranberry
    • Boysenberry
    • Plums delicately sweetened with blueberry jam

    A crack of black pepper and liquorice gives it a spicy finish, while tobacco lends a smoky body to this bold, fruity delight.

    How to Serve Zinfandel Wines

    Zinfandel Serving Temperature

    Like most easy-drinking reds, Zinfandel is best served slightly chilled at 15-18°C or 60 - 65°F.

    Think just below room temperature.

    Too cold, and it will lose its delicious fruitiness. Too warm, and it may become bitter.

    The exact temperature depends on if it's full-bodied or light-bodied Zinfandel:

    • Light-bodied: easier to drink red Zinfandels should be served between 15 - 18°C (60 - 65°F)
    • Full-bodied: heavier red Zinfandels should be served between 18 - 22°C (65 - 72°F)

    To properly chill your wine, we recommend you purchase a wine fridge.

    Not sure which wine fridge is best? See our buying guide here.

    Learn more about serving wine here.

    Red Zinfandel Structure

    How does red Zinfandel compare to other red varieties, such as Merlot, Malbec and Cab Sauvignon?

    It’s lighter in colour, much like Pinot Noir, but don’t let that put you off.

    Due to its high alcohol levels, it has a bolder taste than many other red wines on the market, delivering the perfect blend of sweetness and spice.

    The Rise of White Zinfandel Wine

    It’s hard not to love a White Zinfandel Wine.

    It’s light, slightly sweet, and perfect for quaffing on a sunny afternoon.

    It might not have the complexity of a chilled Sauvignon Blanc or the maturity of a cool Chardonnay, but it’s low in alcohol, calories and price and ideal for those who prefer a sweeter wine.

    White Zinfandel is every day any occasion type of wine.

    Perfect for beginners.

    Zinfandel Wine Regions

    Californian vineyard

    While Zinfandel grows in many regions across the world, you’ll find it in more than 10 per cent of California’s vineyards, where winemakers use it to craft robust reds and hugely popular white Zinfandel rosé wines.

    In Italy, where it is known as Primitivo, Zinfandel grows across 20,000 acres of the Puglia coastline.

    But its origins lead us to Croatia, where it is called Crljenak Kaštelanski.

    New world wine producers in Australia and South Africa now produce Zinfandel wines, too, with red, white and rosé varietals popping up all over the globe.

    Food Pairings for Zinfandel Wine

    The beauty of Zinfandel Wine is that it pairs effortlessly with big flavours and multiple meal options.

    As it is slightly sweeter than other red varietals, it is the perfect partner for spicy curries, Asian dishes such as Japanese Tonkatsu, and Mexican cuisine.

    And it will complement every meat on your barbecue.

    Zinfandel Meat Pairings


    Zinfandel wines pair elegantly with lighter meats such as poultry and game and barbecue favourites such as pork ribs, burgers, beef steaks, and Italian sausages.

    It’s happy with any meat dish, but remember, the darker the meat, the fuller your wine should be.

    Zinfandel Herb & Spice Pairings

    As a spicy wine, Zinfandel works beautifully alongside most herbs and spices.

    Try it with garlic, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary, turmeric, vanilla, cloves, and coriander.

    You won’t be disappointed.

    Zinfandel Cheese Pairing

    cheddar cheese

    As a bold, full-bodied wine Zinfandel can easily stand up to:

    • Mature cheddar
    • Spanish manchego
    • Parmesan 
    • Feta
    • Blue cheese 
    • Gorgonzola

    It’s the perfect addition to any cheeseboard.

    Zinfandel Vegetarian Food Pairing

    The fruitiness of Zinfandel wine brings out the best in vegetarian dishes.

    Try it with vegetables such as roasted tomatoes, caramelised onions, roasted red peppers, and beetroot, and with fruits such as spiced apples, apricots and peaches.

      How Sweet is Zinfandel Wine?

      Contrary to popular belief, not all Zinfandel wines are sweet.

      Most red Zinfandel wines are dry due to their low sugar content, but their fruitiness lends a hint of sweetness that you may not find with other red wines.

      White and rosé Zinfandel wines are usually semi sweet rosé (better choices for people who don't like the taste of wine), although those from southern Italy are dry, crisp and deliciously fruity.

      Zinfandel vs. Merlot

      Are red Zinfandel and Merlot wines the same?

      No, but they are very similar. They are both fruity reds that pair perfectly with most meat dishes, Italian pizzas and pasta, and cheeseboards.

      The most significant difference between the two is that Zinfandel is almost exclusively bottled in the United States, while Merlot is produced in numerous countries worldwide.

      Learn more about Merlot here

      Zinfandel Sugar Content

      Red Zinfandel has a high sugar content compared to dry wines such as chardonnay, pinot noir, and brut Champagne, with the average 175ml glass containing 0.9g.

      But in contrast, it has less sugar than Riesling and Shiraz.

      The Zinfandel Winemaking Process

      Wine Vinyards Around the World

      How is Zinfandel made?

      Like most red wines, it goes through the 5 stages of winemaking:

      • Harvesting
      • Pressing
      • Fermentation
      • Ageing
      • Bottling

      Fermentation is key to a successful Zinfandel, and winemakers must time it right. If they disrupt the process too early, the wine will be over-sweet. If they leave it to run too long, the wine will be over-dry.

      Red, white and rosé Zinfandel wines are made from the same grape.

      Winemakers remove the skins immediately after the pressing process to create white and rosé wines. They leave the skins on longer to create beautiful, full-bodied reds.

      A good quality red Zinfandel wine will be dry, medium to full-bodied, and have a low sugar content, so lookout for these features on the label.

      Zinfandel Viticulture (Cultivation & Harvesting)

      Zinfandel grapes

      When it comes to viticulture, Zinfandel vines like it warm and sunny but not too hot, making California the perfect climate for growing this type of grape.

      As they grow in tight bunches, Zinfandel grapes are prone to shrivelling in extreme heat and rot if they do not have sufficient aeration.

      They are a sensitive bunch that requires a skilled winemaker to bring out their best.

      Zinfandel grapes have a high sugar content and ripen early, but they do not grow uniformly.

      It is not uncommon to see a bunch with both unripe and over-ripe grapes, which makes it challenging for inexperienced growers.

      Some winemakers harvest the grapes individually when they reach the correct level of ripeness, but this is a laborious practice that pushes up Zinfandel prices.

      While some connoisseurs criticise red Zinfandel for being too alcoholic, others believe it brings a sense of terroir to the wine.

      With modern winemaking techniques such as reverse osmosis, winemakers can reduce Zinfandel alcohol levels, but 15% ABV is not uncommon with a red variety, and you’ll rarely find one under 13%.

      The overall length of fermentation, maceration, and ageing in oak barrels determines the red Zinfandel flavour, as does the degree of Brix (BX = sugar content).

      White Zinfandel wines with a 20°Bx are light and refreshing with hints of tobacco, while Red Zinfandel wines with 24°Bx or more are rich, fruity, and full-bodied.

      What to Look Out for When Buying Zinfandel Wine

      Wine Bottles on a Shelf

      • Check the ABV: Alcohol by Volume varies greatly with Zinfandel Wines, with lighter white and rosé versions starting at around 13% and bold red varieties having up to 17% ABV. Check the label before you buy
      • Research the Region: While most Zinfandel Wines in our supermarkets come from California, different sub-regions create different wines. Varieties from Napa Valley and Sonoma tend to be darker and bolder than those from Lodi or Paso, so it’s a good idea to do your research.
      • Look For High Elevation: If you love rich, intense wines, look for Zinfandels sourced from high-elevation areas. The higher the vines, the greater the flavour.


      Before You Go...

      Zinfandel Wine Vinyard

      We hope you enjoyed our article on zinfandel wine.

      Do you need to know about other popular wine types to add something extra to your next dinner party?

      Read our next article about popular red wines (and why) here...

      Popular Red Wine Types (Full Guide)

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      philip thompson Author: Philip Thompson
      Philip is the General Manager at Expert Wine Storage, and is very knowledgable about all things relating to wine and wine storage, including wine fridges. He is regularly featured in media outlets sharing his knowledge on wine. Connect on Linkedin